Two years ago, at the height of the gay marriage debate, St Petersburg based photographer, Clinton Brentwood Lee, of Brentwood Photography, made national headlines after putting a homophobic bride in her place by donating her wedding deposit to LGBTQ charities and then publicly displaying their interaction on social media for the world to see.
His actions led to mixed reactions. “When this happened, it was right around the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage,” recalls Lee. “It was a different time. I received 40% hate mail. I was shown pictures of burning flags and given death threats. Someone even called my mom and told her that I was going to hell.”
His reply to the hate? “Not everyone has to love the way that you love.”
Lee also adds that he focused more on the love he received, “The other 60% of the response to my post was love.”
Since then, his story has been shared several times in various online publications. And, at least once a year, he relives his experience all over again through organic boosted shares on Facebook.
“I only received 1 or 2 emails of hate in the last round of sharing,” says Lee. “It’s been overwhelming – the amount of love.”
Although readers continue to applaud Lee’s story, looking back, he now recognizes that his actions weren’t completely pure. “In a small sense, when I was writing this lady back, I wrote the response knowing that it would make me look good. It would promote my business. But when people responded, I didn’t feel like I was being authentic, because that’s not exactly who I am.”
He also points out that the original articles quoted Lee as, “Supporting gay marriage.” He wishes the articles read, “Brentwood photography supports marriage,” because according to Lee, “everyone deserves marriage and Brentwood supports marriage for all.”
In 2015, at the time his story was shared, Lee owned a gallery on Central Ave. But his interaction with the homophobic bride led to a spiritual awakening.
“In a way, I felt hypocritical. I wanted to be free and I’d tell people to be exactly who they are, but at the same time, I didn’t want the art gallery I owned. I had it because others said I should have it. I really wanted to travel.”
So, Lee gave away his art and closed up his gallery in order to go mobile earlier this year.
Lee now spreads tolerance and understanding by driving and living in a rainbow-painted yellow school bus.
He visits farmer’s markets, music festivals, and community events, sharing his work and spiritual journey while traveling the country to photograph weddings and engagements.
“I’ve created a spiritual circus on a bus,” says Lee. “I’ll invite people onto this bus. When you see it, you are a part of it. It inspires people.
Lee used to photograph 30 to 40 weddings per year. He now photographs 20 to 30. “I stopped advertising. Since the article, I really don’t need to advertise and I’ve become more selective of the weddings I photograph.”
Surprisingly, he also refuses to charge for travel. “I believe distance is just a test to see how far love will go. I will go anywhere.”
Lee’s average fee is $3,000, although he offers several photography packages on his website. He travels all over the United States and has even photographed international weddings.
Lee has big plans, too, including creating a digital gallery on his school bus, powered by light. “I’m calling it ‘Photosynthesis.'”
He’s also creating a photo book titled, “All We See is Love,” wherein he will feature pictures of loving couples and groups.
In his spare time, Lee runs workshops and classes.
When asked if he ever returns to Florida, where his work began, he says, “I have land there and I own a home in Largo that I rent out, but I now live in my bus and travel. I’ve been on the bus since February and it’s been so rewarding. I’ve gotten rid of my things. I’ve learned to do what makes me feel happy and not live based on what other people think will make me happy.”
Although he admits there are risks to living on a bus. “I’ve had the bus catch on fire. There have been some crazy experiences on the road. We were also vandalized.”
One might think that his journey began because of his personal connection to the LGBTQ community, but they would be mistaken. Lee identifies as straight, but jokes, “Someone asked me if I was gay and I said, ‘not yet.’ I’m very much who I am. I’m not afraid to love anyone.”
When asked if he has a partner, Lee says, “I don’t have a partner, because I’m my own partner right now. Through this, I’ve learned how to love myself as a whole and complete person.”
Lee’s even created an alter ego he calls “KnoBody.” “When people think nobody loves them, I can reply, ‘you’re right. KnoBody loves you!'” He says, “using this term alchemises a negative word by turning it into something positive.”
Lee will be back in Florida mid-September for a wedding and will appear at the Earth Dance Festival in Maddox Ranch out of Plant City with his yellow and rainbow painted school bus.
He will also attend the upcoming Stories of Pride Kick-Off Experience at Nova 535 in St. Petersburg, hosted by OUTCOAST, and he’s bringing his bus, too!
Since breaking, his story has led to parallel stories throughout the world. “It’s cool,” Lee smiles. “A couple of people have purchased school buses because of what I’m doing.”
Similarly, a theater teacher in London was told by a mother that she didn’t want her kid attending his class after finding out that he was gay. “So he did a similar thing – he donated his money to an LGBT cause.”
When asked if he would do it all over again, Lee says, “I hope when I die I get remembered for more than my snarky comment and standing up for what everyone should support. I’d rather be remembered for showing people how beautiful the world is.”
To purchase tickets for Stories of Pride, click here.